For the second consecutive year, the Arizona Wildcats are set to play games in Starkville, Mississippi.
This year though, the games mean a little bit more....a College World Series appearance is on the line.
All three games will start at 3 PM PT. Friday's game will be on ESPN2, Saturday's on ESPNU, and Sunday's is TBD channel-wise.
While neither team has technically announced starting pitchers, I'm willing to bet that JC Cloney will square off against Dakota Hudson to open the series. Hudson was taken in the first round of Thursday night's MLB Draft, going 34th overall to the St. Louis Cardinals.
This year, Hudson is 9-4 with a 2.62 ERA. By comparison, Cloney is 6-4 with a 2.86 ERA. Overall, MSU's pitching staff boasts a 3.35 ERA, and Arizona's sits at 3.48 heading into this weekend.
Where the Bulldogs hold an advantage is their offensive prowess. As a team, MSU hits .312, and they are led by freshman Jake Mangum. In 41 starts, Mangum is batting .418, and has an OPS of 0.990. These marks were good enough to earn him a Freshman All-American nod.
The MSU bats are much more powerful than Arizona's as well, blasting 45 home runs on the season. The Wildcats have 23, with four of them coming just last weekend. Gavin Collins (10), Brent Rooker (9) and Jack Kruger (8) lead the way in the home run category, all of them hitting more than Arizona's leader Ryan Aguilar (7).
The thing I'm most curious about is how Arizona will use its pitching staff. Obviously MSU is the most dangerous offensive team from top to bottom that the Wildcats have faced this year, so will there be a shorter leash than normal to get someone in who has complete control of their pitches? And will it allow multiple pitchers to pitch in multiple games if needed?
For Saturday's game, I would think Nathan Bannister starts against Austin Sexton. That's a matchup that favors Arizona, assuming that Bannister is able to recover properly from a 200-pitch weekend in Lafayette. Who knows who would pitch for the Wildcats if a third game is necessary, but MSU would likely go with Zac Houston, who is 6-0 with a 1.63 ERA.
As a whole, MSU is a better team than Arizona. That's just the reality. But if the Wildcats play some great baseball in all aspects of the game, there's no reason to think that they can't make it to Omaha.